Viewed through Proving: The Perfidious Poppy

red poppies

“It is much more difficult to estimate the action of opium than of almost any other drug.”

By Vera Resnick

You may already be familiar with my penchant for tables.  There’s a quote below which in usual unwieldy translation of originally unwieldy German is difficult to read.  Here’s the information in table form, and then read the quote:

OPIUM – PRIMARY ACTION OPIUM – SECONDARY ACTION
exalt the irritability and activity of the voluntary muscles for a longer time diminished irritability and inactivity of the voluntary
diminish those of the involuntary muscles for a longer period morbidly exalted excitability of the involuntary muscles
exalts the fancy and courage loss of ideas and obtuseness of the fancy with faint-heartedness
dull and stupefy (the external senses) the general sensibility and consciousness over sensitiveness of the general sensibility

Courage, mes amis, now, here’s the quote:

“In the primary action of small and moderate doses, in which the organism, passively as it were, lets itself be affected by the medicine, it appears to exalt the irritability and activity of the voluntary muscles for a longer time, but to diminish those of the involuntary muscles for a longer period; and while it exalts the fancy and courage in its primary action, it appears at the same time to dull and stupefy (the external senses) the general sensibility and consciousness.

Thereafter the living organism in its active counter-action produces the opposite of this in the secondary action: diminished irritability and inactivity of the voluntary, and morbidly exalted excitability of the involuntary muscles, and loss of ideas and obtuseness of the fancy, with faint-heartedness along with over sensitiveness of the general sensibility.”

Hahnemann clarifies that this isn’t exact – there is a mingling between primary and secondary action, or a very rapid transition from one state to the other.   And in large doses this whole process is potentially very dangerous.   In his (translated…) words:

“In large doses the symptoms of the primary action not only rise to a far more dangerous height, but they pass from one to another with impetuous rapidity, often mingled with secondary actions or quickly passing into the latter. In some persons certain symptoms are more conspicuous, in others other symptoms.”

Much of what we’re looking at here involves the interplay between the primary and secondary symptoms.  The primary symptom will be the symptom the substance first presents to the organism.  The secondary symptom is the symptom Hahnemann describes here in this way:  “Thereafter the living organism in its active counter-action produces the opposite of this in the secondary action”.

So if we look at the table above, we can see:

–  a primary action which involves increased irritability in the voluntary muscles – which is matched in the secondary action by diminished irritability in the voluntary muscles; decreased activity of involuntary muscles, matched with secondary action of increased excitability in the involuntary

– The primary action of the drug will exalt fancy and courage and dulls the senses.  And the secondary?  The living organism in its active counteraction, on discovering that its human has volunteered for the Foreign Legion while under the influence – will take the first opportunity to slink out of camp in terror, while the same active counteraction will make him over sensitive to every little noise as he does so…

When we’re looking at this interplay – we see a matching:  dulling versus increased sensitivity, exaltation opposite the flat feeling you get after the high…

But we don’t see pain.  This is where this remedy is such a good example of the difference between homoeopathy and allopathy, and also the overarching importance of Aphorism 1 of the Organon.  The homoeopath comes first and foremost to cure, not to temporarily alleviate.  Cure is effected sometimes through relying on primary symptoms in the proving, sometimes through secondary – but cannot be effected where a substance cannot cause the issue it’s being given to cure.  And as Hahnemann points out, most remedies will cause pain in primary action.  Opium is unusual in that it never causes pain (pain in the pocket does not count).  So in Hahnemann’s words (emphasis is mine):

“…opium is precisely not one of those pain-allaying and curing remedies. Opium is almost the only medicine that in its primary action does not produce a single pain. Every other known drug, on the other hand, produces in the healthy human body each its own kinds of pain in its primary action, and hence is able to cure and remove (homoeopathically) similar pains in diseases, especially if the other symptoms of the disease correspond in similarity to those observed from the administration of that medicine. Opium alone is unable to subdue homoeopathically, i.e. permanently, any one single pain.”

The issue of primary and secondary symptoms is a complex one, especially in Opium.  Part of the issue, as Hahnemann points out in this introduction, is that in Opium the primary stage passes very quickly, so what is more observable is the secondary reaction, which comprises most of the symptoms of the proving.

In addition, the Opium progression, dulling pain initially with small doses, which get larger and larger as they become more and more ineffective, causing great damage to the patient along the way, is very typical of those allopathic treatment processes, where the patient is given constant medications and needs more and more to dull the pain.  Often alleviation and palliation come at a tremendous cost to the health of the patient where cure is attainable.  These treatment processes are not about cure.

I’ll conclude here with Hahnemann’s chilling picture of secondary stage Opium:

“The oriental indulgers in opium, after sleeping off their opium intoxication, are always in a state of secondary opium action; their mental faculties are much weakened by too frequent indulgence in the drug. Chilly, pale, bloated, trembling, spiritless, weak, stupid, and with a perceptible anxious inward malaise, they stagger in the morning into the tavern to take their allowence of opium pills in order to quicken the circulation of their blood and obtain warmth, to revive their depressed vital spirits, to reanimate their dulled phantasy with some ideas, and to infuse, in a palliative way, some activity into their paralysed muscles.”

(All quotes are from Hahnemann’s introduction to the proving of Opium, in the Materia Medica Pura.)

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